MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism
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8 September 2006


9.12—Michael Ondaatje


Read about the evolution of magical thinking in this article in the Times Online (UK) for Sept 5.

Don't think plants can take on human characteristics? Think again.


[09.07.06]—Online news and culture magazine, Slate, ran an interesting commentary yesterday on whether art has helped folks to manage the vagaries of living in a post-September 11th America. Magical realism (or at least that kind of thinking) popped up in the discussion:

Christopher Benfey, Slate art critic, mentioned Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow
Steve Coll, author, Ghost Wars, mentioned Ian MacEwan's Saturday
Robert Pinsky, author, The Life of David, pointed to the following poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade (Mark Strand, translator):

Clara strolled in the garden with the children.
The sky was green over the grass,
the water was golden under the bridges,
other elements were blue and rose and orange,
a policeman smiled, bicycles passed,
a girl stepped onto the lawn to catch a bird,
the whole world—Germany, China—
All was quiet around Clara.

The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden.
Mouth, nose, eyes were open. There was no danger.
What Clara feared were the flu, the heat, the insects.
Clara feared missing the eleven o'clock trolley,
waiting for letters slow to arrive,
not always being able to wear a new dress. But
she strolled in the garden, in the morning!
They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!

Editor's note: The magical realist perspective may be one of the best lenses through which to view the complexity of September 11. Let me know if you find a poem, story or novel that used magical realism to piece together the chaos of that defining moment for Americans.

[08.31.06]—Early in Margin's beginnings, an ages-old title was suggested for the reading list with a strong assurance from its advocate that it was early magical realism: The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais. Lo and behold, one can now download a copy of the 320-page book, first published in 1887 by G. Routledge and Sons, via Google's new Book archives. And look what else I found! Gustave Flaubert, by the author of the same name; published in 1903, this volume includes his magical realist story, "The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller". Another treasure: Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun. But what might be of most interest is Knut Hamsun's Pan. Given the outcry against Gunter Grass's recent admission to having served the Nazi party as a soldier in 1945, there's bound to be special interest in other literati with ties to Hitler.


[09.07.06]—Folks who appreciate magical realism but who might turn up their noses to science fiction should read this interview with BLDG BLOG, which features MRist and SFF author Jeff Vandermeer as he discusses the value of the urban landscape in his narratives. He makes some interesting points about the common ground between SFF and MR, especially as it relates to the novelist, who is uninterested in replicating "reality" but who is interested in "plausibility and verisimilitude" and "the kinds of bizarre juxtapositions that occur" within cities.


[09.08.06]—Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Pantheon Books/Random House of Canada: Aug 2006—From the Star-Phoenix: "This sprawling novel viciously lampoons African despotism. It's also lit by magic realism and contains a tender love story."

[09.08.06]—Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Knopf: 2006)—Writes From The Complete Review: "Murakami is also fairly inventive in some of the situations his characters find themselves in. Only a few of the stories have truly fantastical premises (talking animals, etc.), but there's frequently an element of the unnatural and extra-ordinary—but Murakami has a way of making these things seem almost entirely ordinary."

[09.05.06]—Fifty Odes by Pablo Neruda; George Schade, tr. (Host: September 2006)—Writes From Small Press Distribution Books: "Neruda magically transforms everyday objects, from dogs to dictionaries, into essential elements of an always amazing and surprising world."

[08.31.06]—Pick Up Stick City by Steve Semken (Seven Stories Press: 2005 [English version])— Writes Mike Kilen for the Des Moines Register: "Many would label [Pick Up Stick City] inventive magical realism. His main character finds tiny people pods in the pond of an Iowa ghost town. The main character summons those citizens back to life."

[08.31.06]—The Guest by Hwang Sok-Yong; Kyung-Ja Chun and Maya West, tr. (Seven Stories Press: 2005 [English version])— Writes John Feffer for The Nation: "With its supernatural events and chorus of spirits, The Guest would seem to belong to the tradition of magic realism. And like so much magic realism, it involves the remembrance of unspeakable atrocities. …Yet for all its affinities with Garcia Marquez and Rushdie, The Guest's magical elements are faithful renditions of Korea's traditional shamanic culture."

[08.28.06]—Mr. Thundermug by Cornelius Medvei (Fourth Estate: Sept 2006—Writes Philip Hoare for The Telegraph: "Cornelius Medvei's novella is a magic-realist confection with a sly, wry sense of humour and a deft ear for the surreal and the inconsequential. Illustrated with mysterious, Sebaldian photo-etchings by the author himself, Mr Thundermug might be a Kafkaesque allegory of tolerance and prejudice, or simply an elegant literary whimsy."

[Jan.06]—Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo (Troll: 2003)—From The Guardian: "A brilliant novel, mixing magical realism with contemporary Scandinavian realism."


[09.01.06]—At Geoffrey Philpps Blog Spot, Cuban poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa answers a series of five questions and, in doing so, reveals magical realist influences such as Neruda, Borges, Rilke, Lorca and Walcott.


The newsblog will officially appear once weekly starting today and will appear every Friday.

ESPECIALLY FOR WRITERS: Our reading period is closed, and all submissions have been processed. If you have not heard from us and you have a submissions that remains outstanding, chances are good it was lost in the mail. You can always check with us; we have sent you a reply, which could have been lost in the mail.

GET PINGED! If you are set up to read web feeds, simply Margin's MAGICAL REALISM NEWS RSS feed to your reader using your web reader's tools. You'll receive automated feeds whenever we update the Magical Realism Newsblog. If you haven't moved into the world of RSS, don't despair. It's easier than it looks. RSS means "really simple syndication." To download a freeware RSS web reader (which allows you to "get pinged"—that is, receive automatic updates of new content posted at all your favorite blogs), we recommend Active Web Reader 2.4. Set up is easy and the feed reader is customizable.

GENTLE REMINDER: Margin's staff is on hiatus through mid-October 2006. Any e-mail we receive during this time will receive replies as necessary, but there may be delays due to back-to-school chaos, novel revision, apple-picking or fall bonfires.

Posted by at 6:33 PM PDT
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